Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Recreation

Hiking the Versailles Forest with Power Hiking Paris

If you’ve traveled to Paris, it’s likely your agenda included the Chateau de Versailles and the Versailles Gardens. Was the Versailles Forest also on your agenda? No? Well, let me share my visit.


The Chateau de Versailles and its perfectly groomed gardens in the far distance

I extended my stay after the Paris Marathon to absorb more of this wonderful city. Doing so, I needed to add a long hike to fit in some training for the upcoming Hike Across Maryland after my return home. I did a web search of hiking groups in Paris and found the a Meetup Group, Power Hiking Paris, just what I was looking for. They had a 35K hike scheduled for Sunday, my last day in France. I requested to join the group, and after exchanging a couple of emails with Victor (it turns out I was the 3,500th member to join the group), I was in.


The trees were coming into bloom with a blanket of French bluebells across the forest floor.

Instructions were to meet at the Gare Montparnasse on the platform for the train departing to Saint-Cyr. I found the hiking group (not difficult to distinguish with backpacks and hiking poles) in the boarding area at this busy station and had the opportunity to chat with most of them enroute to our destination.

Departing the train at Saint-Cyr, we immediately began hiking out of town to the Versailles Forest. As promised, the pace was fast, a swift hike on the flats and ascents and running on the downhills.

We continued in and out of forest and between farms, orchards and through small towns.

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Because I packed light for my travels which had to include my marathon running equipment, trail shoes and poles remained at home. Thankfully, except for one descent that was a bit iffy, my marathon shoes held their grip and the poles weren’t needed.

We took a short break for lunch and conversation in a meadow, then off again. 

Thank you, Victor, Serge and Meet-up Power Hiking for giving me the opportunity to meet and hike with you. It was a pleasure to join you and the hiking group while getting in my training miles and enjoy a forest in France I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit.

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Do you attempt to meet the people who live in the city/country/region where you are visiting? Did you attempt to get a local point of view new to you? I have found several ways to do this, but it’s the first time I’ve done it through Meetup. If you’re interested in digging deeper in your travels than tour presentations or chats with your waiter, Meetup offers groups in a number of activities and interest areas. 

During your travels, do you have other means of getting to know people and explore your interests more in depth? If so, please share.




Something to be Said for Spontaneity

Have you ever had one of those moments on a road trip when you drive by a trail entrance or a linear park and the urge to run overtakes you?  It happens to me.  My mental inventory begins with:  1) do I have – or am I wearing – running shoes?   2) when do I need to arrive at my destination? and  3) does the location feel safe?

None of those situations was an impulse stopper on a recent drive along the Thousand Islands Parkway, a 20-some mile stretch along the St Lawrence River.  This time, I had no urgent need to arrive at destination at a particular time, I was wearing running clothes disguised as travel gear, and the location was probably as safe as anything gets in this life.

The Parkway can be accessed immediately after clearing Canadian Customs and leaving the Thousands Islands Bridge.

In addition to the scenic drive overlooking the river out one window, a linear bike path out the other extends the full length of the parkway.   I’ve driven this stretch many times and for various reasons stifled the urge to pull the vehicle over and place my feet on the path.  The sometimes beautiful, sometimes quirky cottages built on the small islands dotting the river are an other-worldly view for a mid-day run.


Some island homes are connected to other homes and island boathouses in the river.

I pulled into a nearly empty parking lot.  With a sudden vision of returning fresh from a run to find an empty space where the truck was parked (I’ve been there), I made a brief stop in the Saint Lawrence Islands park office to alert the rangers on duty that I would be leaving my vehicle.  They appreciated the heads-up, since the park was not officially open.  Having thwarted the possibility of a towed vehicle, I took 30 seconds to text family with an update, then off I went.

The reality wasn’t as sweet as the daydream.  Once on the trail, I realized  the bike path is a good three feet below the grade of the road bed. IMG_0629  The view of the island-dotted river when looking out the windshield of a truck, is significantly more expansive than the view of this below-grade path runner.  Oh, well.  I did find the view on the road side of the path had other merits.  There are homes on the bluff overlooking the river, a few local shops tucked into side roads off the path, as well as the occasional properly dressed hiker, walking stick in hand, emerging from one of the hiking trail access points.  The occasional bicyclist and locals out for a walk give me a nod or a wave.  The wind off that wide, frigid river is a bellowing wake up call as it keeps my senses as sharp as the cool breeze sneaking in under my ear warmer.

Sailboat moored midway between parkway and  island cottage.

Planned training runs are necessary and confidence-building.  Races are challenging and inspiring. Neither can match the spontaneity of bolting from my vehicle to follow a trail calling to me at a given moment. It is a treasured experience and one of the reasons this senior runner is still running.

Are you still running?